Board of Adjustment continues proposed Camelback Mountain variance

Paradise Valley elected leaders, residents and development professionals gathered Wednesday, March 2 at the Board of Adjustment public hearing regarding a proposed variance for construction on Camelback Mountain. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Paradise Valley elected leaders, residents and development professionals gathered Wednesday, March 2 at the Board of Adjustment public hearing regarding a proposed variance for construction on Camelback Mountain. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment has granted a 60-day continuance to a variance proposal pursued by TMS Ventures LLC to allow the construction of a driveway that could lead to the largest home ever constructed on Camelback Mountain.

The Board of Adjustment voted 5-2 in favor of a continuance Wednesday, March 2 with members Catherine Kauffman and Robert Nagle dissenting.

Lawyers have been retained, concerns expressed and dispute letters filed as TMS Ventures LLC pursues a variance to the Paradise Valley Hillside Development Ordinance to allow a driveway route from 8 feet to 24 feet tall and spanning 205 feet at 5507 E. San Miguel Ave.

Paradise Valley town staff have recommended approval to the Board of Adjustment for the proposed zoning variance but public outcry over the proposed home project at last Wednesday’s Board of Adjustment meeting prompted the continuance.

“It gives an opportunity for both parties to come together,” said Board of Adjustment member Emily Kile following her motion for continuance at the March 2 public hearing. “I don’t really feel comfortable that our answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and those most impacted feel that they haven’t gotten the time they need.”

Records show the proposed site of the 10,000-square-foot home — that has never been developed — is about 3.44 acres large with a slope of 52 percent, which the applicant says creates the need to build a driveway three times larger than allowed by established zoning rules.

About 40 homeowners who live in an enclave of Paradise Valley coined Stone Canyon, have expressed safety concerns regarding planned blasting to make way for the driveway, the potential damage to Camelback Mountain and a lack of communication between town leaders and concerned residents.

The Stone Canyon community sits at the base of the north side of Camelback Mountain.

Lawyers on both sides of the issue and the architect of the project argued the relevance and need of a roadway easement allowing the creation of the driveway and the absolute necessity for a driveway the length of the proposal.

The conversation left Board of Adjustment Chairman Richard Chambliss calling into question established facts of the case before the board.

“It’s troubling to me that I have heard Mark (the architect) tell us this is the only way to do it and for Mr. Lopez (the opposition’s lawyer) to say that is not right … we have only just now heard about this,” he said at the public hearing. “I don’t know that we should be forcing parties to get together to work their differences. Right now, I am not sure what the facts are.”

Dr. Teresa Zachariah, a neighbor at the base of the mountain, says the issue has brought neighbors together.

“What is going on is someone is wanting to build a home on a lot that is higher and steeper than what has ever been built on Camelback before. The size of the home is twice as large as all the homes in the area. To build a huge home, you are going to have to put a very large scar on a landmark. Not only are we concerned about safety during construction but also the years to come due to how the development could impact drainage issues we already have here,” said Dr. Teresa Zachariah in a Feb. 28 phone interview.

Dr. Zachariah contends the original proposal included several variance requests but has now been reduced to one for the proposed driveway.

“In my opinion, they are trying to get this slipped by,” she said pointing out the Board of Adjustment ruling will stand as zoning law of the land with appeal rights at Maricopa County Superior Court. “We have asked for a delay, as they have had two years and we have had two weeks.”

Dr. Zachariah says the Board of Adjustment ought to let the Hillside Development Ordinance stand for itself in this case.

“The solution is the Board of Adjustment should stand up for the Hillside ordinance,” she said. “To be able to build a 10,000-square-foot home on a 52 percent slope — that is five times too long and three times too deep.”

A view of boulders that sometimes fall down residential areas at the base of Camelback Mountain due to flooding exacerbated by drainage issues. (Submitted photo)

A view of boulders that sometimes fall down residential areas at the base of Camelback Mountain due to flooding exacerbated by drainage issues. (Submitted photo)

The legalese of development

The Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment is a seven-member body composed of residents appointed by Paradise Valley Town Council for four-year terms. The board hears appeals to zoning laws and can grant variances based on specific hardships.

Town code states the Hillside Ordinance is meant to maintain the “valuable scenic resources” known as the Camelback, Mummy and Phoenix mountains.
According to town code, “these lands form, their foothills, and other areas over a 10 percent slope, offer a desirable setting visible to the entire metropolitan area and an intrinsic aesthetic value to the town; therefore they require unique standards resulting from the characteristics of hillside terrain.”

A member of Board of Adjustment says the variance criteria will be followed and evaluated explicitly in this case.

“We do not have any communication with applicants — I really can’t comment on it at this point,” said Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment member Hope Ozer in a Feb. 29 phone interview.

“There are variance criteria in statute established by the Arizona Legislature that typically indicates what variances can and cannot be provided. We need to take testimony, we need to hear the presentation and what the neighbors think. We will evaluate that based on the variance criteria set for by the Arizona Legislature.”

Doug Jorden of Jorden, Bischoff & Hiser represents the applicant, TMS Ventures LLC, and says no variance is being pursued for the home itself — just the driveway.

“In terms of the size of the home that is allowed by the zoning,” he said in a Feb. 29 phone interview. “There is a single variance that is being requested that relates to the driveway. With respect to safety in general that is a legitimate concern but is a little bit premature.”

According to town officials, when and if the variance is granted, the proposal will go before the Paradise Valley Hillside Building Committee then to the building permit stage.

“This is the first of several steps,” Mr. Jorden said. “Absolutely, Mr. Scali (the property owner) doesn’t want boulders rolling on anyone either. It is a legitimate concern, but the Board of Adjustment is not the right venue for those types of concerns — that will come later on.”

Louis Lopez of Moyes, Sellers & Hendricks represents the Zacariah family and says the proposal is not in-sync with established Paradise Valley Hillside Development regulations.

“We do not believe that the project complies with the Hillside Zoning Ordinance and will result in significant scarring to the mountain,” he said in a Feb. 26 e-mail. “To gain access to the lot, the architect for the proposed project, has contracted with Adams Contracting to blow up the mountain. Massive boulders located 50 to 100 feet above existing homes will be destroyed, and the face of the mountaintop changed forever.”

Mr. Lopez contends boulders rolling down the mountain are a legitimate issue to current and future residents of Stone Canyon.

“Massive loose boulders rolling down the mountain are a real threat, plus this area already experiences drainage and erosion issues, which will only be exacerbated by the construction,” he contends. “The property owner’s strategy for this project is unique. The property owner has not published/shared with the community its design plans to prevent the neighbors from objecting to the plans and to maintain a low profile.”

Mr. Lopez says the tactics of the property owner is to leverage an approved variance to gain approval for the proposed construction on Camelback Mountain.

“What they have done is sought a very discreet variance,” he said. “They hope that by getting the variance it will give them leverage with the Hillside Building Committee to push through the project. The property owner is arguing for the variance because if they are not given permission to do what they want the alternative is to blow up a larger portion of Camelback Mountain and seek more variances from the Hillside Zoning Ordinance.”

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